As the Western Ghats snakes its way towards the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, it takes a leisurely sojourn through the lush district of Idukki in Kerala. Spice gardens and tea plantations dot the undulating mountainous region which also boasts of nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Elevation, rainfall and other climatic parameters have blessed Idukki with the perfect condition not only for the growth of spices like nutmeg, garlic and ginger but also for the world’s beloved ambrosian delight - cocoa. 

Kerala is the second largest producer of cocoa in India owing to the plantations of Idukki, some of which are located in the picturesque hill station of Munnar. Situated at the confluence of three mountain streams, Munnar is a cloud abode known for its rolling hills and tumbling waterfalls. It is against this backdrop that the quaint little establishment of Macofa Chocolate Factory has its home.

In the crisp chill of the evening when the fog settles in and obscures the winding roads of Munnar, the inviting golden lights of Macofa wink at tourists through big glazed windows with the promise of silken chocolate and a hot cup of coffee. I had the opportunity of visiting the establishment myself this summer. 

Upon entering, one’s senses are treated to a milieu of delicate notes emanating from the rich display of cocoa flavoured in more ways than the mind can imagine. Macofa houses different varieties of chocolate ranging from the usual milks and darks to more local flavours like the Kerala nut, and also includes a stevia-sweetened, diabetes-friendly confection. What’s more - the factory offers a walk-through experience where customers can see how chocolate is made.

The tour begins at the very inception of the process, demonstrating how the locally-sourced cocoa fruit is fermented for a week. The cocoa beans are then harvested and dried under the sweet wintry sun characteristic of Indian hill stations. Once the beans have dried, they are roasted and made available for customers to taste at Macofa owing to the deliciously crisp flavour profile that accompanies this stage. Following this, the cocoa nibs are processed by an industrial machine for eight hours in a pristine room that tourists are welcome to observe from behind a glass panel. Milk, sugar and cocoa butter are added in a separate machine after which the rich, decadent blend is poured into bite-sized moulds.

By the time I had finished shopping for a variety of sweetmeats - all individually wrapped and carefully placed in a gourmet box - the evening fog had lifted its veil from the tea estate below. The sky was a curious shade of indigo; the local employees predicted light rain. I settled down in a cosy corner of the shop with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a few slow-baked pistachio chocolate samples. The pistachios too, I was informed, happened to be locally sourced, as were the figs, cashews and almonds that Macofa incorporated into its confectionery. 

The next morning, a short jeep ride around the neighbourhood revealed trees heavy with ripe jackfruits and figs, stalks of lemongrass growing freely along the hillside; cocoa, coffee, and tea coexisting alongside medicinal herbs and sacred ritual flora. The self-sufficient communal economy of the little town was evident in the morning tea-stall frequenters, the tour guides stopping by the plantations for a bite, and the spice garden that served as an ayurvedic care centre. All this culminated in the charming decadence of a chocolate factory which utilised every unconventional flavour and resource provided to it by the ever-yielding fertility of the Idukki landscape.

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